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June 25, 2017

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Japan sent packing by reinvigorated Colombia at Arena Pantanal

CUIABA, Brazil -- Jackson Martinez scored twice as Colombia beat Japan 4-1 Tuesday to end their World Cup Group C campaign with a perfect three wins and boot the Asian champions out of the tournament.

History was made when Faryd Mondragon beat Roger Milla's record as the oldest player at a World Cup. The goalkeeper came on as a substitute for the last six minutes at the age of 43 years and three days.

Man-of-the-match Martinez's two second-half goals broke Japanese hearts after the Blue Samurai had equalised on the stroke of half-time to keep their hopes alive in Cuiaba.

The hugely impressive James Rodriguez, who came on as a second-half substitute, set up both of Martinez's goals and scored the fourth himself.

They finished well clear at the top of the group ahead of Greece, who broke Ivory Coast hearts with a last minute penalty to seal a 2-1 win and take the second place off the African side.

"We're very happy because we've won a difficult match," said Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, who made eight changes to his starting line-up.

"Managing to win three games makes us trust ourselves even more. We feel really confident and we're really happy because today we have proved once again that Colombia is a team. We are a very tight group."

Colombian fans decked out in yellow turned the stadium into a home fixture, hugely outnumbering their Japanese counterparts.

The new-look team started brightly but once Japan settled they enjoyed the lion's share of the possession, with Shinji Kagawa — restored to the starting XI — and Keisuke Honda probing for an opening.

Colombia took the lead against the run of play when Adrian Ramos was upended by Yasuyuki Konna as he burst into the penalty area, earning the defender a booking.

Juan Cuadrado converted from the spot in the 17th minute to put Colombia 1-0 in front.

Japan, criticized for their toothless display against Greece in their previous match, pressed for an equalizer. Kagawa forced a smart save from David Ospina and Honda went close from a free-kick.

Their efforts were eventually rewarded when Shinji Okazaki scored with an impressive diving header from Honda's teasing left-footed cross.

But Japan knew despite their efforts they were still dependent on the other match in Group C, in which Greece were playing Ivory Coast.

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